Whether you’ve lived somewhere for a long time or you grew up there, one thing is most likely true: You probably haven’t seen as much as visitors have. Since returning back to my hometown, I’m finding new stories and faint memories from childhood on some of my return visits. When friends visiting southern Utah on Labor Day invite me on a trip to the historic ruins of Old Iron Town, I decide to join and learn more about an area I’ve lived in for years but haven’t really known. Although Old Iron Town may seem like a small cluster of bricks from fallen ruins or a worn-out dome, these structures hold a place for my imagination as I wander through pathways and bricks.
Entering the first kiln, I peer up at the single open window of this abandoned brick oven. Started in 1868 by Ebenezer Hanks and a few other individuals, these structures eventually became known as the Great Western Iron Manufacturing Company. Looking at the kilns and other machines now covered in grass and bushes, I think on how these abandoned structures used to produce 800 pounds of iron every 8 hours. In 12 days, one kiln could produce 50 kernels of coal, enough to process one ton of iron ore. It may not seem like a huge feat looking at these old wooden and run down bricks, but looking out at the desert grasses in the sun, it’s easy to see how strenuous it must have been decades ago.
Although the years of rough weather and looters have left behind one kiln, Old Iron Town hasn’t lost mystique. No matter how worn buildings become they still leave our imagination an idea of what might have been. The ruins bring me back to another memory of childhood, a Mary Chapin Carpenter song, “I’m an old truck up on cinder bricks, missing all my wheels . . . I am tucked behind the Jaycees sign, on the rural route, I am a town.” The melody softly sits in the back of my mind as I head back into town with my friends. I may be from here, but in some ways I’m still a visitor.